New Jersey Juvenile DWI and Underage Drinking Charges

Teenagers and young adults drink alcohol. This is simply a fact of life. But just because it happens regularly does not mean it is not a serious offense. In the United States, the legal drinking age is 21. Although there are a few exceptions in New Jersey and other states, such as a minor’s consumption of alcohol on private property with his or her parent’s permission or the consumption of alcohol as part of a culinary education program, individuals under the age of 21 may not legally consume alcoholic beverages. Minors found to be intoxicated or in possession of alcohol in public are subject to criminal charges. These charges differ depending on whether the minor is over or under the age of 18 at the time of his or her arrest.

Do not think that simply because teenage drinking is common, that you should not be concerned if your child is charged with an alcohol-related offense. A DWI or other offense related to underage drinking can have a substantial impact on his or her life now and later. It can also indicate that your child has or could develop substance abuse issues and is in need of intervention and/or rehabilitation. If your child has been charged with any underage drinking-related offense, contact an experienced juvenile DWI and underage drinking defense lawyer as soon as possible to develop an effective legal defense strategy for him or her. Not only could getting legal help now protect your child from facing criminal penalties and their long-term repercussions, it could save his or her life.

The lawyers at The Law Offices of Jonathan F. Marshall make up one of the state’s most experienced drunk driving defense teams. We are former municipal and county prosecutors with over a century in practice between us. Our attorneys also have extensive knowledge in the defense of juvenile offenses throughout New Jersey. To speak to an attorney on our staff, call our office at 877-450-8301.

Overview of Juvenile DWI and Underage Drinking Charges in New Jersey

In New Jersey, like the rest of the United States, it is illegal for an individual to drive if his or her blood alcohol content (BAC) is 0.08 percent or higher. However, this limit only applies to drivers age 21 and over. An individual under the age of 21 may not operate a motor vehicle if his or her BAC is 0.01 percent or higher. Alcohol inhibits an individual’s judgment, his or her perception, and his or her reaction time, three abilities that are critical to the safe operation of a motor vehicle. Drunk drivers pose a safety hazard to themselves, their passengers, and all others on the road.

It is also illegal for an individual under the age of 21 to possess or consume alcohol, even if he or she is over 18 and legally an adult. If your son or daughter is heading off to college in the near future, discuss this in detail with him or her. Although drinking and college life can appear to go hand-in-hand, your child’s college education may be compromised if he or she is charged with underage possession or consumption of alcohol.

An adult who provides alcohol to minors can also face criminal charges. This is true whether it is the case of a 21-year-old buying beer for their younger sibling or a parent providing alcohol for their child and their child’s friends at a house party. This is a disorderly persons offense that can be punished with up to six months in jail and a fine of up to $1,000.

In New Jersey, a DWI charge cannot be expunged. This means that if your child is found guilty of a DWI, the DWI will remain on his or her criminal record for the rest of his or her life. This is perhaps the most compelling reason to fight a DWI charge with help from an experienced juvenile defense lawyer. Although a DWI generally does not carry the stigma that a criminal charge carries for individuals seeking employment or housing, having a DWI on his or her record can have an impact on your child’s future opportunities as well as the penalties he or she may face if he or she is arrested for DWI a second time.

There are many possible defenses to a DWI charge. If your child was not read his or her Miranda Rights or if the Breathalyzer used in his or her arrest was not calibrated properly, this may be a valid defense to his or her charge. If the arresting officer did not have probable cause to pull your child over, this too can be used as a possible DWI defense.

Underage DWI Charges

For an individual under 21, driving with any BAC over 0.01 percent is grounds for a DWI charge. An individual can face steeper penalties if his or her BAC is found to be over 0.08 percent at the time of his or her arrest.

An individual found to have a BAC between 0.01 and 0.08 may have his or her driver’s licenses suspended for 30 to 90 days, either beginning on the date of his or her conviction or on his or her 17th birthday. In addition to this suspension, the individual may be required to perform 15 to 30 days of community service and enroll in Intoxicated Driver Resource Program and pay the associated fees.

If an underage driver is found to have a BAC of 0.08 or higher, he or she is subject to the same penalties that an adult driver charged with a DWI faces. This includes a driver’s license suspension of three months to one year for the driver’s first offense, as well as enrollment in a drug education program. Like with the suspension discussed above, if a driver is under 17 when he or she is found guilty of DWI, this suspension will not start until his or her 17th birthday. The court may take special care to give a driver under 21 community service or supervised visitation programs through which they can experience the consequences of drunk driving firsthand. This may mean volunteering in a hospital or a morgue as well as receiving counseling.

Underage Drinking and Alcohol Possession Charges

It is important to remember that there are different terms used with juvenile versus adult offenders. Individuals over age 18 who are charged with underage drinking or alcohol possession may face adult criminal penalties. Those under 18 may be adjudged delinquent under N.J.S. 2A:4A-44(b)(1). Juvenile offenders are subject to dispositions, which as terms to which they may be sentenced by the court in an attempt to rehabilitate them and change their behavior. Dispositions can include a change in the offender’s legal guardianship, an educational program, or a rehabilitative program.

Possession of alcohol by an individual under 21 is a disorderly persons offense. Although an individual can face up to six months in jail for this conviction, this penalty is rarely sentenced for first time offenders. For this offense, an offender can also be fined $500 to $1,000. The court may also require the individual to complete an alcohol and drug education program for up to six months if it deems this to be necessary.

Individuals under 18 who are charged with unlawful alcohol possession can face the dispositions listed in N.J.S. 2A:4A-44(b)(1). The dispositions your child may face depend on the circumstances of his or her case, such as his or her previous record, previous instances of substance abuse, and any other needs as determined by the court. He or she may be required to complete a residential or nonresidential drug treatment program or any other treatment deemed appropriate, such as psychological counseling. In addition to these, if the juvenile was in a motor vehicle when he or she was found to be in possession of alcohol, his or her driving privileges may be suspended for six months. If the juvenile was not yet 17 at the time, the suspension does not start until his or her 17th birthday.

It is also a disorderly persons offense for a minor to possess a fake identification charge with the intent of using it to purchase alcohol. For this offense, an individual can face a fine of $500 or more and a six month driver’s license suspension. For one’s second fake identification offense, an individual can face up to six months in detention. In addition to these penalties, an individual can face specific fines determined by the municipality in which he or she is charged.

Work with an Experienced New Jersey Juvenile DWI and Underage Drinking Lawyer

If your son or daughter was arrested for DWI or any other charge related to underage drinking, be proactive and start working with an experienced juvenile DWI defense lawyer as soon as possible. Make it a point to work with a lawyer who has specific experience working with juveniles charged with DWI, rather than experience working only with adults facing this charge. A juvenile DWI defense attorney has experience representing underage clients and understands their specific needs. Contact our team of New Jersey juvenile DWI and underage drinking defense lawyers at The Law Offices of Jonathan F. Marshall today to schedule your initial legal consultation with us. We can answer any questions you have and provide you and your child with the guidance you need as you move forward with the process of defending his or her case.